This column, a regular feature, was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Google’s dilemma:
Writing in the Guardian last week, Google general counsel David Drummond described the trouble the European unit of his company is having trying to implement a European Union court’s decision that the search giant must eliminate links to certain Web articles or postings about people that these people claim are unduly embarrassing.
The European court’s “right to be forgotten decision,” Drummond wrote, “found that people have the right to ask for information to be removed from search results that include their names if it is ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.’ In deciding what to remove, search engines must also have regard to the public interest.
“These are, of course, very vague and subjective tests,” Drummond concluded.
No kidding. That’s why I’m hoping for an article taking us inside the room, or rooms, where the Google people try to cope with all that ambiguity.
True, we’ve seen reports like this one of Google reinstating articles in the Guardian after complaints by the newspaper that the supposedly off-limits material related to legitimate subjects of public debate. But it would be great to see how, say, 10 random cases were decided — even if the names of those winning deletions were blocked.
Watching people from a company that has reduced pretty much everything to an algorithm struggle over these “subjective” decisions would be interesting enough. But the legal, journalistic and ethical issues behind those decisions would also be fascinating.
2. The immigrant kids crisis:
Am I the only one who doesn’t understand why the crisis of children from Central America being stopped at our southern border has suddenly burst into the headlines?
Have the conditions that caused parents to want to get their children out of harm’s way suddenly worsened? If so, how and why?
Or is it that we have gotten so good at protecting the border that we’re catching so many more of these children?
Or is the press suddenly noticing a horrible situation that has existed for months or years?
3. Winning by losing:
Two weeks ago, The New York Times ran a story reporting that losing Tea Party Senate candidate Chris McDaniel of Mississippi may be a likely prospect to follow other Republicans on the right who have lost elections but end up with more influence.
As the Times put it, “Many of the Tea Party movement’s most resonant — or at least loudest — voices these days were themselves Election Day losers who have packed up their ideas about government and elections along with their campaign signs and headed to outside groups, radio programs or their own living rooms in an effort to influence campaigns, often making heaps of trouble for their own party.”
The Times then cited the “mother of this strategy” — Sarah Palin, “the failed vice presidential candidate who jettisoned her job as governor of Alaska in favor of a personal bully pulpit and a political action committee to support conservatives candidates, who largely covet her nod.”
There is an intriguing irony here emblematic of the way that political influence has become less about getting something done and more about scaring elected politicians into not getting anything done by refusing to compromise.
But I’m also interested in the money angle. Sure, retired or rejected politicians have long been able to earn more than their public service salaries by lobbying or running trade associations.
But what the Times’ story implies is that by simply shifting the venue of their political activism from official duties to shouting from the sidelines, the defeated pols can make a killing while not giving up their political influence but even enhancing it.
The “mother of” all these stories would also be Palin. How about a story on Palin, Inc.? How much does she get for speeches? What perks and benefits does she demand when she speaks? What paid television or radio gigs has she done and for how much, and what new ones is she contemplating? Does she or anyone in her family draw money from her PAC or from businesses financially related to the PAC?
What about Allen West, the one-term firebrand Florida congressman? The Times story reported that he has a Fox News deal and an “Allen West Guardian Fund” that brought in $3.8 million in contributions during the current election cycle. Despite the fact that West isn’t running for anything and used the fund to make just $5,000 in contributions to other federal candidates.